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Before that steam drill shall beat me down,

I'll die with my hammer in my hand.

Alternate title: Ludd was Aight.

According to folklore, sometime in the late 18th century or early 19th century, a man named Ned Ludd broke into a factory and destroyed two machines as a protest against technology. A movement to resist the industrial revolution and favor agrarian societies named itself the Luddites in his honor. Agriculture itself was a technological advancement over hunting and gathering - but of course neither Ludd nor his opponents would have known that at the time. Incidentally, it wasn't actually an anti-technology movement. It was basically a unionist movement. Traditional craftsmen, such as wainwrights and blacksmiths, were their own masters, able to work whatever hours they wanted as long as they delivered their products on time. Industrialization reduced their crafts to menial labor that could often be performed by unskilled workers. If the artisans tried to make the transition, they were faced with lower wages and fixed working hours -- something referred to in the American South as "wage-slavery". The Luddites were just protesting against changes they felt would destroy their way of life. Today the term 'Luddite' can refer (usually disparagingly) to any opposition to technology, though a major argument continues to be that effort-saving devices put people out of work. While some regard Luddism as a Dead Horse Trope, a quick search of the internet -- or the latest movies -- will prove that not to be the case.

This trope manifests itself as follows:

  1. If a community that traditionally has made everything painstakingly by hand switches to robots, magic, machines, etc. to make goods, expect trouble. In all likelihood, either the goods produced will turn out to be unusable, or the robots, machines, etc. will become dangerous, and the characters will be forced to return to the old ways with An Aesop about the value of tender loving care. Ironically, an actual economic problem will result from the hordes of people who have no jobs and will no longer have the power to purchase the goods produced. It is called a consumption crash. It is also never brought up in these scenarios.
  2. If a society used to having everything done with magic, technology, etc. is compared to another society which does everything the old-fashioned way, the more advanced society will be portrayed as a Dystopia of some kind.

Examples tend to be Anvilicious Author Filibusters.

Basically, Science Is Bad on a global scale. See also Artistic License Economics. Also Green Aesop. May be the (sinful) Discipline in Harmony Versus Discipline. In fiction, may be enforced by Status Quo Is God (and in extreme cases, a Reset Button). Compare Industrialized Evil, where evil itself uses the scientific method and/or efficient methods of "production" (not necessarily machines, but that's popular too).

Not to be confused with the Luddites of Dragon Ball Z.

Subtrope of Good Old Ways.

Examples of Ludd Was Right include:


Appeal to Tradition

Film

  • Unlike the other Star Trek series, Star Trek: Insurrection has an Anvilicious Luddite aesop, where a peaceful and agrarian Space Amish race that swore off advanced technology is victimized by corrupt Federation officials who want to study how to replicate the natural phenomena that grants them eternal life. This is a bit of a Berserk Button among some Star Trek fans, since Gene Roddenberry's original vision of the series was to promote the benefits and promise that technology could bring.

Literature

  • Characters in S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series of books seem perfectly happy being thrown back into pre-industrial state. A mysterious force disables all electricity, gunpowder, and steam power. This reults in most of humanity dying from starvation and the survivors reverting to agrarian communities. Although a few can be heard pining for modern conveniences (most commonly deoderant and birth control), more often than not you'll hear them say how much happier they are and that this was the way humans were meant to live. Of course, it must be pointed out that those who survived tended to be Renn Faire patrons, ranchers, history professors, survivalists, and the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Video Games

  • The Metal Gear Solid games have characters frequently put down the soldiers who were trained in VR simulations instead of live exercises, and all the characters who were trained this way are portrayed as incompetent until we see them get real experience (such as the Genome troops, Meryl in Metal Gear Solid, and Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2). Metal Gear Solid 2 used this to make Anvilicious swipes at gaming fans more than anything, but came up with an odd Fantastic Aesop in "Snake Tale E: External Gazer" - Snake's VR machine destroys other universes to function and therefore should never be used. It gets weird when the games hammer home how VR simulations are as realistic as the real thing, and more customizable to actual combat situations.
    • There's actually logic behind this: in a VR simulation, you're not fearing for your life and you're far more likely to act like a suicidal idiot.
      • Unless you make "death" a non-option, and just leave them writhing on the ground in simulated pain.
      • This troper just read the subtext of the whole 'VR Training' exercises as railing on gamers who think they're experts in some field as a result of extensive video gaming (read: 'VR Training') - including combat.
  • A subtext in Daiku No Gensan/Hammerin Harry. The villains are modern construction workers and the company they work for. The hero is a traditional Japanese carpenter. The heroine/love interest/frequent Distressed Damsel is the heir to the company that employs him.

Technology replaces labor:

Anime and Manga

  • The underground rebellion in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis is motivated by human workers being displaced by robots.

Film

  • Santa Claus: The Movie: The elf Patch makes a toy assembly line to speed up production, but things go awry and the toys produced fall apart at the slightest provocation.
    • The simple solution would be having someone inside the machine to watch for errors; the real problem was the poor design, not the assembly line itself.
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has Santa Claus "making" toys by pushing buttons. Later, the villains sabotage the machine, causing Santa to finally denounce the process.
  • The Prestige's machine is taken-for-granted as wicked. It teleports/copies.
    • It isn't a scientific device, but rather a piece of sorcerous Magitech. People keep referring to Nikola Tesla as a genuine wizard.
    • There is the whole issue that it creates duplicates who are, as far as we are shown, fully aware and sentient. The duplicates are then sent elsewhere as the original is used as fodder for a magic act. Yeah...
  • Played with in WALL-E: Having robots and technology do everything for them causes the humans on the Axiom to become grotesquely fat and incredibly lazy, and leads to seven hundred years of stagnation and boredom for their entire society. The fate of Earth itself could also be an example. On the other hand, some of the robots (including our protagonist) are likable characters. In the end, the trope is subverted when humans and robots learn to work together to restore Earth - showing that technology can be a force for good, but has to be used in a balanced way.
  • The Man in the White Suit. Someone invents an indestructible white suit that never gets dirty. Disaster ensues.
    • Notably, the disaster is a riot by the factory workers who fear losing their jobs when the demand for new clothing plummets, and a panic by the owners of said factory; in other words, Luddites are the cause of the disaster.
    • Curiously, you'd think it'd be the laundry industry that'd be most up in arms, given that clothing styles would still change and people would still outgrow or get bored with garments.
      • That does show up. A poor old woman who runs a one-woman laundry service to make ends meet asks the inventor, "And what 'appens to me and my little bit o' washing' when there's no washing' to be done?"
  • In the 1977 Ralph Bakshi movie Wizards the good wizard Avatar uses magic, while the evil wizard Blackwolf uses technology. Somewhat averted at the end when Avatar pulls out a gun and shoots Blackwolf

Literature

  • JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Saruman started out as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thought his rule would be good for the world and used both magic and technology as means of gaining power. He later industrialized the Shire (through his puppet Lotho) as a petty jab at the hobbits.
    • To be fair, while Tolkein made no secret of his opinion, Saruman wasn't trying to industrialize the Shire. He was trying to destroy it. Lotho began the industrialization process before Saruman showed up on the scene, and while its effects weren't beneficial, they weren't terrible either; it was when Saruman arrived and took over that he switched from "build more and better machines" to "knock down buildings, cut down trees, pour filth on everything just for the hell of it." As one of the hobbits who lived through it remarked, Lotho's machines didn't really improve matters, but "since Sharkey arrived it's been plain ruination."
      • Word of God though is that the perils of industrialisation and the destruction of beauty is the one theme Mr Tolkien will admit to.
  • The Stand, Stephen King's Shout-Out to Lord of the Rings. In at least one Author Filibuster, the characters (mainly Cool Old Guy Glen Bateman) have plenty of time to discuss this issue after a plague wipes out most of humanity and conclude (after more bad stuff happens) that trying to rebuild the old government and society that engineered the plague would be a mistake. Since the old ways of American materialistic society were "a death trip", they follow the prophecies of a wise woman to cross the mountains on foot, carrying nothing, to face the demonic enemy leader in Las Vegas.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the employees of the toothpaste factory are replaced by a machine to put caps on tubes. Which results in Charlie's father being laid off. In the Tim Burton film, he ends up being hired back to repair and maintain the same machines that replaced him.
  • In Man After Man, the "memory people" have perfect recall of their human ancestors' technology, but refuse to use it because they also remember how human civilization collapsed and nearly took the planet down with it. Ironically, their Luddite attitude means they don't even consider recreating humanity's sustainable technologies, even though their own descendents would share the very same memories to warn them away from untenable courses of development.
  • "Thou shalt not make a machine in imitation of the human mind"--The Orange Catholic bible

Music

Live Action TV

  • An episode of Monk intentionally invokes the story of John Henry in regards to Adrian Monk vs. the technologically supplied FBI agents. However, given how over the top the FBI acts, it's likely this was more of a parody of modern crime dramas, such as CSI. In the end, the escaping bad guy is caught thanks to a high-tec hand-held device... that the chief threw at him.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Ultimate Computer": A new computer has been developed that can control an entire star-ship by itself, making crews and captains obsolete. For the entire episode, Kirk, Bones and at one point (briefly) even Spock make speeches about how terrible it is that people will be replaced by machines, how the computer will take something of what it is to be a "man" away from humanity, how computers just can't do the job with the same "heart" as people, etc. Bones evokes the trope explicitly at one point, noting how hard it is to lose one's job to automation. Of course, just to drive the point home, it turns out that AI Is a Crapshoot, and the computer's designer was insane, to boot. Which of course proves that Ludd Was Right... even though it's made clear that if the designer was more psychologically stable, the computer might have worked just fine.
    • The aesop feels more sincere in the first half of the episode, before the computer conveniently goes haywire, when it appears to be working just fine:

 Kirk: "There are certain things men must do to remain men. Your computer would take that away.

McCoy, later: "We're all sorry for the other guy when he loses his job to a machine. When it comes to your job, that's different. And it always will be different."

      • Although one cannot help but wonder if "Losing your Job" in the post-monetary Star Trek utopia isn't really more than a bit of a nuisance.
    • Really, the computer pretty much just made The Captain obsolete. It was made clear that crews would still be necessary for the purposes of landing parties. Also, no mention was ever made of Star Fleet's diplomatic functions at all.
  • There were other encounters with Luddites on Star Trek:
    • Kirk's attorney, Samuel T. Cogley, in "Court Martial".
    • The farmer/researchers in "This Side of Paradise" -- although their contentment with being isolated and living with minimal technology seems to stem as much from the spores as from anything else.
  • Parodied in an episode of Kids in The Hall, in which a group of laborers who work all day at holding their arms in a sink full of fish guts are replaced by a machine full of mannequin hands which can do the same job. When the manager insists this is the way of technology, the laborers point out that the manager can be replaced by a machine too. Then he starts stuttering and falling apart because he's a robot.
  • The Battlestar Galactica Reimagined (2003) finale veers in this direction.

Video Games

  • The Yevonites in Final Fantasy X blame the existence of the big bad who has been ravaging the world for a thousand years on technology. The old civilization had highly advanced technology and magic to the point where manual labor seems to have been eliminated, but the destruction has reduced most of the world to a pretty primitive state although with a lot of Lost Technology going around. They claim the old ways of relying on machina (machines) made mankind so lazy that the big bad was sent in as divine punishment, and gave the creature the name Sin. Nobody seems to be worried though about relying too much on magic, or the fact that their capital city has a giant high tech sport stadium.
    • In fact it turns out the Yevonites are really just devoted to keeping the world in an eternally unchanging cycle; they reserve the use of machines for themselves, Sin cannot be permanently destroyed by the method used to defeat it, and technology really has nothing to do with the origin of Sin itself. In other words, they're keeping all the goodies to themselves and convincing everyone else that it's bad to try to change things just so they can stay in charge.
  • This thinking is eventually revealed to be the motivation behind the Bloody Mantis, something of a mafia in Steambot Chronicles. Oddly, only if you don't join them. The overall theme of the game is an inversion, however, and there are multiple sidequests to bring technology to areas that haven't been industrialized yet.

Web Original

  • Dr. Steel's idea of a perfect world is where everything un-fun is done with automatons. He has already attempted the creation of a robot band, but things went horribly wrong.

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, Lemon Meringue gets a Salon-o-matic that styles hair and gives perfect manicures and pedicures. Unfortunately, this puts her out of a job, and while she tries to find a new calling in Berry Bitty City, she soon feels the need to leave. Though her friends try to convince her to stay, it isn't until Strawberry Shortcake points out that the Salon-o-matic doesn't have the human touch that she decides to stay (and send back the offending machine).
    • Amusingly, as Strawberry adds that she sent back the Wonder Waffler that she ordered from the same magazine Lemon got her Salon-o-matic for being too perfect, Blueberry Muffin worries that this means she'll have to send back her Clean-o-matic, also from the same magazine.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, The Flim-Flam Brothers produce a machine that can produce apple cider at least thrice as fast as the Apple Family. However, this trope is subverted, as their Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 actually has a quality control mechanism that causes their robotic apple cider to taste as good as homemade apple cider. In the end, the machine is defeated not because it was inferior to the natural way, but because its creators were idiots.

Real Life

Magic replaces labor:

Video Games

  • One enemy faction in City of Villains, the Luddites proclaim the large power plant is pure evil, and Dr. Aeon is using demonic powers to fuel the great Aeon City. You can later learn that they're right on both counts. Oops.
    • Of course, you are a villain, so it's not like you actually care.

Western Animation

  • The Smurfs: In one episode, Brainy enchants a needle to sew clothing faster than Tailor Smurf. But the clothing is cheap and even Baby Smurf can detect the lack of tender loving care sewn into his diapers. To finally drop the Anvil, attempts to disable the magic needle turn it evil, and it attacks the villagers.
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice: The magical 'robot' broom turns out to be uncontrollable.
    • This is much more a case of "Do not call up what you cannot put down," or possibly Gone Horribly Right.
      • To be fair to the poor, beleaguered apprentice, who'd have figured that a demon broom could resist an axe?

Literature

  • In the Codex Alera , the Alerans have become so dependent on magic that they have abandoned most technology as inferior. Alera is on the brink of destruction when Bernard (at his nephew's request) rebuilds an ancient device that, combined with Aleran magic, becomes the most potent weapon in existence. The device? A catapult.
  • This is invoked by economist Hubert Turvy in Making Money, to explain why using the newly found four thousand golems would be a bad idea.

 "Think of what they could do for the city!" said Mr. Cowslick of the Artificer's Guild.

"Well, yes. To begin with, they would put one hundred and twenty thousand men out of work," said Hubert, "but that would be only the start. They do not require food, clothing, or shelter.... The demand for many things would drop and further unemployment would result...."

    • Although, unlike most examples on this page, he actually has a point: Introducing this much free labor into the labor pool actually would crash the economy. It'd be like the Industrialization in Europe during the late 19th century, only in fast forward. Pratchett, being a Brit himself, was probably quite aware of this.
  • Another example being A Hat Full of Sky where Hiver-Tiffany makes cheese using magic. The next day it's shown to be melting away and atracting flies, and generally infit for consumption.

Technically advanced society as Dystopia:

Cyberpunk?

Anime and Manga

  • Pretty much done to death in Earth Maiden Arjuna, which basically posits civilization (i.e. pretty much everything after the introduction of agriculture and the wheel) as against Man's true harmony. Naturally, this is done by showing how depraved and screwed-up modern life is compared to those who "embrace" nature.

Comic Books

  • In the Post-Crisis version of Superman, Kryptonians had became cold isolated beings who only relied on science, being Jor-El one of the few ones still with feelings or humanity. So good Krypton was destroyed. Sadly, so was Jor-El.

Film

  • In The Secret of NIMH, the rat protagonists dislike the fact their society is based around stolen technology and want to be self-supporting. The rats that want to keep their stolen electric life go into exile and eventually die... trying to steal an engine. In this case it's not automation that is evil, but using technology you didn't build yourself.
    • Also, the desire to give up human technology was at least partly motivated by the fear that it might bring unwanted attention on the rats' society. Which it did.
  • Taken to Anvilicious levels in Avatar, where the naturalistic Naavi are presented as morally and culturally superior in comparison to the more technologically advanced humans, who are all bastards who polluted their own home planet to the brink of ecological collapse.

Literature

  • In Isaac Asimov's Robot series, where Spacers replace all their manual labor with robots, and this is viewed as contributing to their isolationist and morally questionable society.
    • Since the robots are sentient, it's more like slavery-is-bad than just technology-is-bad.
      • Although Spacer society, when taken to its logical extreme on the planet Solaria, seems to represent a weird kind of "Freedom is bad" Aesop.
      • Actually, Asimov used it to provide a polar opposite to future Earth's society - where robots were hated. The idea was that Spacer society would stagnate and never expand (go out into the galaxy, etc.) because everything was done for them. This isn't clear in the first two books that take place at that time, but the third hammers it home - that any attempt to colonize a new world had to be a cooperative effort between humans AND robots, or it would invariably fail.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano posits a world where automation has replaced most jobs. The majority of people in America (the world?) live on welfare with nothing to give their lives meaning; they hold daily parades to cheer themselves up. Contributing to the dystopia is unshakeable faith in aptitude tests, which supposedly identify scientists and managers. One character, classified as a janitor, invented a machine that did his entire job; with no "aptitude" for other work he joined the unemployed.

Music

  • Ayreon: both Earth and Planet Y.
  • Flobots - "Handlebars", at least in the music video.

Television

  • Played straight in several Star Trek episodes where the crew encounters either:
    • A supposedly primitive, happy society that is either secretly rather advanced (such as the Organians), or long ago had once been advanced, but gave up a high tech lifestyle for a simple one.
    • Or a post-industrial revolution society that is really a paper Utopia hiding a dark secret.
    • Side note-- The Federation itself is a subversion of the trope.
    • The episode "Paradise" from season 2 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured a marooned federation transport ship that had set up a luddite society (by necessity as the planet they had crashed on had some kind of energy field which disabled all their technology). To bad their leader turned out to be a draconian fascist who marooned them on purpose and faked the energy field to force them all to adopt her anti-technology philosophy, to the point of letting people die from simple injuries or treatable illnesses rather than use medicine more advanced than local herbs.
  • Stargate SG-1 plays it similar to the Star Trek example. Any apparently human society is either:
    • Less advanced than Earth, happy when free of alien influence, but unable to defend itself without help.
    • More advanced than Earth and has some disturbingly dystopian element. And when they weren't dystopian, they either refused to help Earth and/or got blown up.
      • There are also planets with Cold War era technology that are, well, experiencing a cold war. At least one destroyed themselves in a nuclear war. One might actually consider this natural human development, though. Technology isn't the problem; people are.
    • On the other hand, Earth itself advances its technology considerably, and this is never portrayed as a bad thing-- in fact it's a major purpose of the SGC. Towards the end of the show, Earth is sufficiently advanced that the show had no qualms about introducing a friendly minor civilization with near-future technology.
      • Of course, even then, all the advanced tech is being held at Area 51 or used only by SG teams and ships. It's stressed on several occasions that Earth as a whole is not ready for The Masquerade to break just yet.
      • Although, it is mentioned that some technology was leaking into the commercial market, but it's rarely discussed, so it's less Ludd Was Right and more about something minor but inevitable happening.
  • The remake of Battlestar Galactica ends with the entire fleet spontaneously deciding that Ludd Was Right and it's time to throw away all their advanced technology, hand the Cylon basestar over to the Centurions, launch the rest of their fleet into the sun, and embark on a primitive existence on a totally unfamiliar world. This was unfortunately a result of the need for the fleet to become us as shown in the coda to the finale, and flew right in the face of the lessons learned by the characters over the series. Lee actually said they needed to grow before they could attempt to live as they had done, ignoring that they had done just that over the series, even coming to gather with the artificially created Cylons (some of them), and the point had never been 'technology is bad', merely the societal problems they had just overcome!
    • The sad part is that it could easily have been tweaked so that the colonials founded Atlantis, then destroyed themselves and their advanced technology a few generations down the line. Same Aesop, fits the real-world timeline, and it makes sense.
  • The Alphaverse in Charlie Jade is far more technically advanced than our universe (the Betaverse); it's also severely polluted, run by corrupt corporations instead of governments, and is built on a caste system where the lowest class is considered property. A rather more subtle example, as not everyone who travels from Alpha to Beta prefers the latter. One scientist assigned to the Betaverse is disgusted by the crudity of cancer treatment, implying it's easily curable in her universe, and Charlie himself spends much of the series unimpressed by Beta and trying to get home to Alpha, which he describes as "Some place just like this, only better. And much worse."

Video Games

Magically advanced society as Dystopia:

Film

  • The Dark Crystal: the evil Skesis use technology as well as magic, while the good Mystics live in caves.
    • Which may or may not be a good example of the trope. It is never explored whether the Mystics actually chose to not use more than very basic technology or are unable to, and it is strongly implied that the Skesis are simply unable to not be evil.

Literature

  • In Mercedes Lackey's The Mage Storms trilogy (part of the Valdemar series), a kingdom that runs on magic is disabled when magic becomes unreliable. Those who did things manually, and those too poor to afford magical assistance, do much better than their wealthier neighbors.
    • However, the key for many of those who pull through very well is... Industrializing, the actual technological way. Complete with smoke-belching, coal fired steam engines (the kind emblematic of the darkest days of the Industrial Revolution). Hence Ludd Was Right was almost certainly not an intended aesop.
      • Also, the eponymous storms were utterly unforeseeable. The Empire was prepared and able to cope with every conceivable disaster, they were simple caught in the position of a society dependent on, say, wind power for energy when the wind suddenly stops blowing.
  • The Darksword trilogy is an inversion: the widespread use of magic and prohibition of technology has caused society to stagnate.
  • Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away has a magic dependent society that runs out of Mana. Only those who abandon magic and revert to primitive lifestyles survive. In this case, it's not that there was anything wrong with magic, or that the original magic-dependent society was a bad place to live. It's just that magic turned out to be a limited resource... unbeknownst to most of the people using magic.

Video Games

  • Inverted in Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero. This is how almost every magus views the situation, preferring to rely on magecraft and completely ignoring the technological side of things. 'As science moves towards the future, magic moves towards the past' is seen as the perfect summation, and that regressing and falling behind is perfectly okay. In Fate/Zero, Kiritsugu exploits the hell out of this because magi are so rooted in tradition.
    • There is some justification for their viewpoint. In the Nasuverse's backstory, the modern age was preceeded by an "Age of the Gods" when sorcery was commonplace and magicians could do just about anything. In the modern age, that type of all-powerful sorcery is essentially a lost art, and the magecraft used by modern magi is a pale imitation limited by numerous rules. One of those rules is that magecraft cannot accomplish anything that normal humans can't accomplish without magecraft, but that rule also works in reverse; new applications of magecraft become possible as technology advances, and given enough time and technological advancement magecraft could eventually replace the old art of sorcery.
  • The Kingdom of Zeal is the most advanced and prosperous society in Chrono Trigger...at least for the elite castes of society who live on the floating islands. The poor ground-bound folks live in miserable squalor. Oh, and did we mention that Zeal's myriad magical wonders are fueled by power tapped from a Cosmic Horror that exists to devour the world?
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